How can a religion which promotes meekness and absistence from wealth manage to combine so well with the most wealth-seeking and sociopathic ideology?
The US conservative mix is an interesting combination of ideologies, from one hand bringing the Christian fundamentalist aspects of Protestantism or Catholicism with their values of meekness, “turn the other cheek”, “love thy neighbour” to rest with the pro-Capitalist ethics of dog-eat-dog competition, “grow or die”, “profits above all”. To say the least, to imagine a pro-capitalist christian is quite a long way away from the story of a Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple, or to combine the “there-is-no-such-thing-as-free-meal” concepts with a Jesus feeding everyone for free.
However the truth is that there are also significant similarities between the two ideologies when one takes the contemporary version of Christianity as is dominant in the USA, which has chosen particular aspects of the Christian dogma to promote and others to marginalize as is common with the Great Book of Multiple Choice: The Holy Bible. In this instance far more weight is given to the concepts of the Protestant work ethic, Catholic blind respect for authority, self-blame, judgement and fear, while the ideals of selfless love, communalism, anti-metchantilism, anti-greed etc have been quite purposefully hidden from view to all but the most inquisitive minds (i.e. to those who are not content to have the bible interpreted for them by their local clergy.)
When taken in this light, “Christianisty” becomes suddenly a perfect match with the right-wing ideologies which spread the myths that Capitalism rewards the hard-working and most capable, that only the best rise to the top (and therefore the “just hierarchy” this implies) and the general idea that the poor and downtrodden have only themselves to blame. In fact, the basic combining point of those two ideologies would be this simple concept:
The Poor and downtrodden have only themselves to blame.
This kind of mentality is profoundly popular amongst pro-capitalist, right-“libertarians” and assorted propertarians and very often my discussions with them will devolve to the point where I’m trying to explain how wealth is primarily accumulated via some combination of luck (or ancestry, of birth, of health, of location, of time etc) rather than personal hard work. And this is treated a the gravest of heresies. I urge you to try it one time with some defender of Capitalism and see how they react.
When you point out that there’s plently of hard-working people who remain poor, the counter argument is that some few people did grow rich (at this point names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are commonly mentioned). This does not counter the fact that the majority of hard-working people don’t “make it” but it does serve as a useful distraction. When you point out that a rich guy born in the US has infinitely more opportunities to “make it” than a poor, black guy born in Congo, they may point that better ones manage to immigrate. Again, a red herring.
Propaganda and a priori justifications of propertarian free markets are not much different. More often than not, the simplistic examples used involve one “entrepreneurial” individual who is more able, smarter, more frugal, wiser, or simply more hard-working from the rest and therefore manages to create, accumulate or invent something that others will wish to rent from him. This implies of course that the reasons the rest of people stayed in their current social position is because they are lazy or stupid. The silliness of course is when those fantastical examples are juxtaposed in current reality as an attempt to prove that the poor have only themselves to blame. No attempt at empirical research to discover the reasons is made. As is common in economics, reality is assumed to fit the theoretical models.
Similarly, the USA breed of fundamentalist Christian is quick to assume that their current life is totally justified by their work ethic and their piety in front of their god. All good luck is interpreted as holy blessing for their good deeds and faith while all trouble can easily be attributed to insufficient following of their interpretations of the Great Book of Mutliple Choice Bible. Under this prism, it’s not difficult to see how religious nutters can attain any measure of success.
This mindframe then allows the believer to not only ignore the visible effects of poverty without helping and with a clear conscience (“It’s their own fault for being too promiscuous/sinful/unfaithful”) but to also rationalize the existence of wealthy Christians (“They wouldn’t have been rewarded with wealth had they not been good Christians“) to Christian claims such as the ones which claim that the rich will not get in Heaven. This is what, to me at least, seems to feed the extreme judgementalism and schadenfreude that fundamentalists display.
Given such a strong connecting point, it’s not surprising at all that US conservatives are a unstable mix of Pro-Capitalist and Christian Fundamentalists and how criticisms on their intolerance or inhumanity in the face of suffering does not seem to affect them when the way the view the world fundamentally differs from the reality. It’s no wonder that some of the more radical elements of both parties, resemble each other so much in action. It’s no wonder that the two ideologies most unwittingly supporting the ruling elite have found common ground to work at it together.
Of course, as is the case for all things which depart from the facts, reality has a particular way of slapping one back in very unpleasant ways. Once this happens, once the true nature of the capitalist system starts to make itself known to those two camps and the answers provided by their apologists of choice (Priests or Economists, pick your poison) don’t fulfill, then is the time that friction starts to occur. The lifetime hard-working christian who suddenly finds himself at or past the edge of bankruptcy because of a serious illness is quite likely to start challenging the notions that the Capitalist system or God rewards the hard-working. He will seek answers for his predicament and when those fail to fulfill as they are bound to do, perhaps they’ll start thinking things over. The eager entepreneur who finds his startup attempts squashed like a bug by large companies and corporations and ends up in the position of a minimum-wage-slave despite his credential might end up challenging ideas of working free markets and how the brighter rise to the top, once he has to experience the true face of scientific management.
As unfortunate as it is that there’s not a lot of room to convert people who simply don’t have the correct experiences in their life (good luck convincing a successful entrepreneur that his success is due to luck and privilege and that capitalism doesn’t work) the good thing is that the periodic collapses of the capitalist system often make large bulks of people start challenging their previously held beliefs. We can then only hope we have good enough arguments to push them in the right direction and start the snowball effect of their awakening from Religious and Capitalist myths.